By Claire West

Stress is still the major concern for UK employers when considering the health and productivity of their employees, a global survey released today indicates.

“WORKING WELL: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies,” issued by Buck Consultants, a Xerox Company, found that 72 percent of UK respondents were very concerned about the effect of stress on their workforce. Whilst the 2010 survey findings on stress are lower than those of the 2009 survey, they highlight why more than 50 percent of the survey participants have a workplace wellness strategy in place.

Managing workplace stress was a new topic for the survey this year, and 63 percent of respondents highlighted an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) as one of the most common tools for stress management within their organisation. Also noted was that effective communication and engagement of staff with the EAP programme are key to its success.

These results were among the key findings of Buck’s fourth annual global wellness survey, which analysed responses from more than 1,200 organisations in 47 countries, representing approximately 13 million employees around the world.

The survey results also showed that workplace wellness programmes continued to gain momentum in 2010, with widespread acceptance that there is a direct correlation between employee wellness and productivity. Measuring effectiveness of these programmes, however, remains low.

“Workforce stress levels are at the forefront of U.K. employers’ minds. At the same time, we see a rise in employers’ recognition of the benefits of a workplace wellness strategy and their increasing appetite to implement one,” said Mike Tyler, UK managing director, Health & Productivity, Buck Consultants. “We see room for improvement in measuring the effectiveness of a wellness strategy in order to identify the particular challenges each employer will face. Organisations that measure the impact of their workplace wellness strategy are more successful at improving their employees’ health, thereby impacting productivity, absence and engagement. However, we recognise that many employers simply don’t know how to measure their results or they don’t have the resources to do so.”

The top objectives for implementing a U.K. workplace wellness strategy remain the same as those in 2009: improving productivity and reducing absence. The survey also revealed a significant increase in the importance placed by participants on the need to comply with legislation, further organisational values and increase corporate social responsibility activities.

Given the focus on smoking cessation in recent years, the results also showed that smoking is a much less important health risk for participants, but substance abuse has become a bigger issue, with 55 percent of respondents saying that this was a concern.

Other key findings of Buck’s workplace wellness study include:

• Globally, 66 percent of respondents have a formal wellness strategy, a significant increase from 49 percent in 2007.

• Wellness programs are most prevalent in North America, where 74 percent of responding employers offer them.

• Within in the U.K., 57 percent of respondents have a wellness strategy.

• Lack of physical activity and poor nutritional habits immediately follow stress as the most important concerns for U.K. participants when thinking about their employees’ health (60 percent and 58 percent respectively).

• The fastest-growing components of wellness programmes are technology-driven tools. In three years, employers around the world expect a six-fold increase in their use of mobile technology — such as smartphones — to support employee wellness initiatives.

Buck Consultants’ survey was conducted in association with Pfizer, CIGNA, Wolf Kirsten International Health Consulting, and WorldatWork.